New IBF middleweight beltholder Darren Barker insists a title defense against fellow-Englishman Martin Murray is a distinct possibility following his bruising, battling split-decision victory over Australian Daniel Geale.
In the immediate aftermath of his success on Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., the emotionally-choked 31-year-old British star had been unable to discuss where his career might be heading. All he wanted to do was sink a “beer or two” and get home “to see my daughter.”
However, 48 hours later, Barker, from Barnet, north London, was starting to consider what could be around the corner, having at the second attempt – he lost to THE RING’s 160-pound champion Sergio Martinez in October 2011 – secured his lifelong goal of being an elite beltwinner.
And the good news for British boxing fans is that a domestic showdown with contender Murray is on the agenda.
“Martin Murray is a good bloke and me winning this belt could well set up big fights like the one with him,” said Barker (26-1, 16 knockouts) in a statement released Monday by his promoters Matchroom. “He’s a great champion and, like this fight with Geale, the boxing would do the talking. There’d be no bad blood – just two honest boxers battling it out.”
Those comments delivered Stateside, where Barker and his partner are having a few days’ holiday, come swiftly on the heels of Murray’s glowing appraisal of his countryman’s performance. The fighter from St Helen’s, Merseyside, who had started the weekend sixth in THE RING’s middleweight ratings and two places above Barker, was calling the bout live in the Sky Sports studios.
Beforehand, Murray (21-1-1, 15 KOs) reluctantly tipped Geale to retain his belt, believing the man from Down Under would too strong in the latter stages. Post-fight, having witnessed the complete opposite unravel, he spoke of his sheer delight at being so wide of the mark, hailed Barker’s extraordinary will to win and masterful, unexpected attacking game-plan.
He also confirmed he would love the opportunity to take on Barker.
“The fact he is British makes it a realistic chance of me fighting Darren and, obviously, it’s a fight that I would want,” said Murray, who managed a draw against THE RING’s No. 2-rated Felix Sturm in Germany in December 2011 and only four months ago lost a narrow points decision to Martinez in the Argentinian’s own backyard of Buenos Aries.
“But I wish Darren all the best. Not because I may be fighting him. I genuinely wanted him to do it. But the fact he’s done this does make a fight with me more realistic. We have spoken about it in the past. He may have mandatory defense or a rematch with Geale. But I know I’d gladly fight Darren and I think it would make for a very entertaining fight. It is one the British public would want.”
On Barker upsetting the odds and majority of expert opinion, despite being dropped in the sixth round by a savage Geale punch, Murray admitted he was as shocked as anyone at the outsider’s positive approach, from first to last bell.
“It was an amazing performance and I’m so happy that I got my prediction wrong. I am made up that he won,” said the 30-year-old contender. “I wasn’t expecting that from Darren Barker and I don’t think Geale was either. That was the biggest surprise for Geale. But Darren deserved to win that fight. It was close and some of the rounds could have gone both ways, but at the end of it Darren deserved to win it.
“After the sixth round when he caught by that body shot I thought it would be the turning point and Geale would come on strong. But it was Darren who was still there strong at the end. You could tell he was in the condition of his life.
“Against Martinez, I felt Darren showed too much respect. But in there with Geale, he went for it right from the off. I don’t think Geale underestimated him. He was in the condition of his life too and wanted to impress just as badly. I just don’t think he expected that kind of fight.”
If Murray does not get first crack at Barker, then the opportunity could fall to Ireland’s Midlands-born Matthew Macklin (29-5, 20 KOs) or Germany’s former multiple titleholder Sturm (38-3-2, 17 KOs), according to Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn.
Barker, though, just wants to reiterate his sincere thanks to the thousands of well-wishers from back home, whom he says inspired him to the greatest night of his rollercoaster career.
“For one person to say that he never wanted a Brit to win a world title as much as they wanted it for me was amazing,” said Barker, who dedicated the victory to his late brother Gary. “But for thousands of them to send messages to me like that is very humbling. I can’t tell you how much that means. That sort of support is incredible. I’m so grateful to all those who stayed up and watched it back in the UK.”
Photos / Rich Schultz-Getty Images
You can follow Harry Pratt on Twitter: @gharrypratt